Jay Z @ Bell Centre – January 24, 2014

There is something really refreshing about a performer who is comfortable in their own skin.  They don’t have any pretense about themselves and don’t feel the pressure to impress the crowd.  As Jay Z easily moved from side to side of the big stage on Friday night at the Bell Centre you could really just sit back (or stand up and dance along to the beats) and enjoy watching a master.

Jay Z has been in the music industry for almost 20 years, so the man has plenty of experience.  Enough to know what works and what does not.  Though it seems like he shot out of the gate with that knowledge as he has always had an easy coolness about him.  The guy is smooth and oozes confidence the moment he takes the stage, but without anything pompous about him.  He knows he is the king of the rap game though he doesn’t rub our noses in it.  Jay Z still works hard, though.  It is an amazing combination to behold in a live setting.

The man is big enough that he does not need an opening act.  But for about 45 minutes before he took the stage a little past 9 p.m. there was a DJ onstage (though not really lit) who warmed the crowd up spinning some hip hop and rap tunes.  He played a wide range of tunes, but the one that got the biggest reaction from the crowd were the classic tunes.  Makes sense as they were there to see a guy who has been around the block.

Some have dared to wonder out loud whether Jay Z can command the stage and do a show on his own anymore.  Yes, he has not toured alone for about 4 years and the last times he has gone out on the road it has been with Kanye West and Justin Timberlake.  We should not have taken that as a sign of weakness or a loss of skills.  For the over 2 hours he was on stage he commanded each and every person in the Bell Centre’s attention.

He was the centre of attention.  His stage, which impressive, was rather simple as it featured a couple of levels, big screens on the side and it lit up.  What I liked about the stage was that it lit up almost like a big Rubik Cube and was fairly open.  You could almost say it was transparent kind of like the man.    He was not relying on special effects rather he was just going to wow yo with his skills as a rapper.

Once he took the stage most of the crowd rose to their feet and greeted the man from the projects in Brooklyn with a diamond sign.  It signaled the beginning of an evening that was like a big party.  Through much of the evening he was all smiles enjoying the adulation that was coming his way.  It was also clear that he still enjoys doing what he does and there were no motions being gone through.

Jay Z was not completely alone as there was a trio of live musicians on stage as well as his good friend Timbaland.  The successful producer and performer was there in the beginning of the show, but there was no fanfare surrounding him.  He just did his thing mostly in the shadows.  When Jay Z was ready for a break to change his outfit his longtime friend was there to support him.  After introducing Timbaland, Jay Z left the stage in his hands.  The big guy then proceeded to mix some music.  Some great tunes he has worked on with artists like Aliyah, Ginuwine and Missy Elliot got big reactions from the crowd.  He even slipped in a tune from his latest album.  It didn’t last that long though it did pack a punch.

While his set was made up of a nice mix of old and new it was definitely older songs like “Big Pimpin”, “99 Problems”, “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”, and “Hard Knock Life” that got the biggest cheers from the crowd.  Of the newer tunes “Tom Ford” got the biggest response.

What impressed me was the point where he took time out of the show to point out some people in the crowd.  It was his way of saying that he realizes that the people in the crowd, his fans, are the ones that have brought this guy out of the projects and made him one of the richest men in music.  Of course, his talent and hard work are big parts of it, but he knows that the people who have bought his music and concert tickets are the biggest reason.  And you could tell his appreciation was genuine.  He made the nights of a couple of fans by bringing a young woman who had a sign indicating this was her 14th time seeing Jay Z live up on stage and giving her a couple of hugs.  Jay Z also brought a guy up on stage for a couple of photos and the guy gave him a Canadiens t-shirt for the king of rap’s young daughter, Blue Ivy, complete with her name on the back.  Nice gesture and Jay Z seemed genuinely thankful.  He loves his fans and the feeling is mutual.  As far as rap acts go this guy engages with his fans more than your average bear.

He also made a nice speech before the closing number of his encore “Young Forever”, which he dedicated to Nelson Mandela, about never giving up on your dreams.  Encouragement to chase your dreams coming from a guy who worked hard for his and has achieved success, I am sure, beyond his wildest dreams seem to have serious weight with the crowd.  And he was not just reciting the words, the guy believes it.  There was not a disingenuous moment the whole show.

If you haven’t and have the opportunity see this guy live.  While his music is great to listen to it really is in the live setting that he excels.  While watching him you are aware you are hearing a living legend in the rap/hip hop.  All in all you can see why this guy had previously won 17 Grammys previously as his music is really the soundtrack of many a person of a certain age as well as a great example of how he has set the trends in rap.  You could also see that he remains relevant as illustrated that he led all acts with 9 Grammy nominations this year and added a few more trophies to his collection.  Like his song says this guys seems to have the ability to remain Young Forever”.

Set List:

1) Higher Intro

2) U Don’t Know

3) Crown

4) On to the Next One

5) Holy Grail

6) Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit

7) Beach is Better

8) 99 Problems

9) Picasso Baby

10) Dead Presidents

11) Can I Live

12) No Church in the Wild

13) Somewhereinamerica

14) Big Pimpin’

Timbaland Interlude

15) Jigga My Nigga

16) Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)

17) Dirt Off Your Shoulder

18) I Just Wanna Love U (Give it 2 Me)

19) Niggas in Paris

20) Tom Ford

21) Public Service Announcement

22) Clique

23) Run This Town

Encore:

24) Encore

25) Empire State of Mind

26) Izzo (H.O.V.A.)

27) Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)

28) Young Forever

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